How Ron DeSantis is winning the pandemic battle, but losing the perception war

ron desantis
His strategies weren't the failures detractors expected, yet his approval ratings are still tanking.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has become a national punching bag over his delayed decision to issue a statewide stay-at-home order and his refusal to shut down all beaches in the state.

His thought process weighed the need to take public health preventative measures while also maintaining as much of Florida’s economy as possible.

While that juggling act was decried as putting economy over safety, mostly by Democrats, his strategy shows signs of paying off.

As predicted a few weeks ago, DeSantis may indeed be pulling off his inside straight. Yet even as he appears to have beat the odds, public opinion has been largely against the Governor.

Images of crowded beaches during Spring Break plagued his administration for weeks and led to what turns out to be “the sky is falling” claims that the raucous gatherings packed with un-phased partiers would lead to widespread outbreaks of the virus.

While one of the busiest Spring Break hot spots, Miami, has seen the state’s worst outbreak, statewide data does not support that hypothesis.

And more broadly, the state is already seeing a flattening curve. As The Capitolist noted, the number of new reported cases over an eight-day period this month showed no signs of significant increases. Hospitalizations painted a slightly less optimistic picture, but even those are slowing down, not speeding up.

Further, the expected death toll in Florida has been revised downward, from a previous estimate of 240 Floridians a day to just 112 with the total number of expected deaths in the state accounting, ultimately, for 4,000 instead of the previously estimated 6,770.

The state also ranks third in the nation for testing, which gives officials access to greater data to better allocate resources and reduce the spread and manage risk.

So why then, is DeSantis still viewed as the Governor who got it all wrong?

In a rundown of polling data compiled by FiveThirtyEight on 15 governors, DeSantis was the only one not to show double-digit increases in approval ratings. Worse, he posted a seven point decline. The only viable answer to that question seems to be that his communication strategy is not working.

When those beach images emerged, some of the Governor’s supporters were quick to point out that national media outlets were, in many cases, showing images that were several days old and painting a picture of a situation that was fleeting and quickly remedied. DeSantis’ office did not push back on the negative press as aggressively.

And his office has made a series of blunders that give Floridians, and the media, pause over his transparency.

Take for example a Miami Herald request for a list of which Florida nursing homes or other elder care facilities had reported cases of the new coronavirus. DeSantis’ office didn’t deliver, leaving the paper to threaten to sue. The response was more shadow games, with DeSantis’ general counsel reportedly pressuring the Herald’s legal team to drop the suit.

Reporters have been blocked from press briefings. The Florida Department of Health’s public tracking of coronavirus data has been inconsistent and some times inaccurate.

Not to mention DeSantis’ bizarre decision to don just one glove during a recent briefing, drawing ridicule from the internet at large questioning whether he understood how to properly use protective gear.

Add to that DeSantis’ administration’s delayed efforts to shore up the state’s catastrophically broken unemployment website, and you have a recipe for public perception disaster fueled by a parade of avoidable errors.

During times of crisis, people need to know their government is working for them. DeSantis was, few would contend otherwise even if they didn’t agree with his brand of action. But his office’s communication on its wins, paired with a lack of transparency, means he’s not doing himself any favors when it comes to public perception.

I previously wrote that there was still time to get it right, specifically as it relates to the unemployment crisis, but that window might be quickly closing if the Governor and his team don’t come up with a winning strategy to combine optimism with realism, share the administration’s wins while also being proactive in the battles it must still fight and double down on getting that message out, DeSantis may very well be looking at an approval rating decline too far gone from which to recover.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


27 comments

  • Arthur C Phillips

    April 12, 2020 at 10:17 pm

    Might be ,we have been for over a month for unemployment insurance could you without pay for amonth. Desantis is either stupid or uninformed for saying the things he has been saying .

    • janette

      April 13, 2020 at 9:54 am

      Hi Floridians, I am a furloughed hotel worker who is just as frustrated as you are. I have started a call for current DEO head Ken Lawson to immediately resign from his position. Our politicians have failed us in Florida and it is so important that we the people are heard, many people are suffering please join my call follow link and sign my petition add comments or add your own petition. But Floridians please do not stay quiet speak up and share your experience, suggestion, and ideas with others Floridians who are going through this also.

      http://chng.it/6c6hqQRNbt

  • John

    April 12, 2020 at 10:17 pm

    DeSantis’s poll numbers are sagging because he is inextricably tied to the failure of Donald Trump to act earlier in the pandemic. Ron DeSantis was slow walking closing beaches and locking down our state. He was caught flat-footed when faced with fixing the republican wrecked unemployment system and refusal to provide COVID19/ Nursing Home data. Voters will not forget.

    • janette

      April 13, 2020 at 9:56 am

      It is Easter Sunday April 12, 2020 I have been furloughed now since March 20th 2020, my last day to work was on March 17th 2020. It has been 23 days since I applied for my unemployment benefits in my state of Florida which I was instructed to do so by my hotel employer. With great frustration being constantly kicked off the states website receiving error messages after error message 8 hours later it seemed like I got the application done.

      Well not exactly, see I have been checking daily, I have had the website ask for proof of identity, listed is a previous employer from 13 years ago which now is being questioned by the unemployment dept. about my employment status, meanwhile I input all my current employers information from my W-2 which was in fact the employer who furloughed me on March 20, 2020. This website also has my monetary status as pending for over 3 weeks. It also has my claim status as active.

      The big question here is why haven’t I received my benefits, why have New Yorkers already received their third check and here in Florida our workers have not even received our first check. Looking further into this dysfunctional, fiasco called the DEO I find this problem has been going on for YEARS.

      State auditors warned Gov. Ron DeSantis last year that Florida’s unemployment website was still suffering major problems, including glitches, error messages and other problems that thousands of Floridians are now experiencing.

      In a damning 2019 report, auditors found that they had flagged all of the problems with the website in previous audits going back to 2015 — yet state officials had not made a serious attempt to fix them.

      THIS REVEALS TO THE VOTERS IN FLORIDA THAT WE MUST DEEPLY CONSIDER WHO WE PLACE IN OFFICE, BECAUSE IT DOES MATTER GREATLY TO OUR FUTURE AS WELL AS OUR DAY TO DAY. IT IS APPARENT THAT THESE ELECTED OFFICIALS DO NOT CARE ABOUT US THE WORKERS, WORKERS HAVE NOT BEEN ON THEIR MINDS, WORKERS HAVE BEEN LEFT BEHIND IN THIS PANDEMIC. WORKERS ARE HUNGRY, WORKERS NEED TO PAY OUR BILLS. THIS IS UNAMERICAN AND INEXCUSABLE.

      THIS SITUATION IN FLORIDA WITH THE UNEMPLOYMENT DEPT. IS AS INSIDIOUS AS THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC ITSELF.

      THESE ELECTED OFFICIALS WORK FOR US. THEY HAVE NO PROBLEM TAKING OUR TAX MONEY, YET THEY CANNOT GET THE SIMPLE JOB DONE. THEY ARE TO BUSY WITH OTHER MATTERS, TO DEAL WITH WORKERS CONCERNS. I AM CALLING FOR AN IMMEDIATE RESIGNATION OF THE HEAD OF THE DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY KEN LAWSON FOR HIS INCOMPETENCE, LEADING TO THE PAIN AND SUFFERING OF OUR FELLOW FLORIDIANS THROUGH NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN.

      FLORIDA VOTERS DO NOT PUT THESE PEOPLE IN OFFICE. REMEMBER YOUR TIME OF NEED AND REMEMBER THE LAGGING, SHAMELESS, LAME EXCUSES, FOR THIS STATE CABINET TO FINALLY COME TO ACTION AND PAY OUR WORKERS BENEFITS IN AN ALREADY UNACCEPTABLE UNTIMELY FASHION.
      GOD BLESS AND HELP US ALL ESPECIALLY THOSE THAT HAVE LOST LOVED ONES DURING THIS HORRIFIC MOMENT IN OUR NATION’S HISTORY.
      PLEASE TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES AND EACH OTHER.

      • janette

        April 13, 2020 at 10:00 am

        Link for petition to remove elected officials for the irresponsible, and incompetent response to this pandemic.

        please click link and sign petition

        • FL Patriot

          April 13, 2020 at 2:47 pm

          Please ask for the correct link located in Wuhan, China or the military lab near there.

      • Amanda Durham

        April 13, 2020 at 1:41 pm

        Amen! I called the governor’s office today left a message saying I Know he still has a job, but maybe he should try to file for unemployment and see that the money that has been spent on trying to better has failed!!!! Last day of work March 16th, still nothing!!!

    • Jen

      April 13, 2020 at 12:20 pm

      How much were you paid to write this positive PR spin for DeSantis? He is a Trump lackey and we have yet to see the official toll that Floridians have paid for his failure to lead and act promptly. His kowtowing to the churches to keep them open is a joke.

      And then you have the decrepit unemployment system that he inherited from Rick Scott but hasn’t done enough to improve it since his election and even now still. The website keeps crashing, can’t get through on the phones, applications going unprocessed for weeks.

      This article is propaganda written by yet another corrupt Republican political hack.

      • Lisa dann

        April 13, 2020 at 1:18 pm

        With you on this…Can tell you there are numerous Republicans I know that will intentionally not vote that way based on the UI issue. When you can’t put food on the table, can’t buy medicine for your kid….they are hurting.

    • GetReal

      April 15, 2020 at 1:28 pm

      I guess you didn’t believe a thing you read in this fact filled article.

      This is the kind of politics that nobody appreciates in a time of crisis for everyone, regardless of party affiliation.

  • Kenneth Pitt

    April 12, 2020 at 10:19 pm

    The governor failed miserably, refusing to act and turning a deaf ear to the pleas of medical professionals and the people he governs. My email imploring him to act was blocked, apparently because it asked him to hitch up his big boy pants and govern. As for those spring breakers here in Panama City Beach, how many spread the coronavirus to their home states? His treatment of the press was arrogant. He is a disgrace.

  • Drock

    April 12, 2020 at 10:30 pm

    “Unemployment system is up to speed”. System is not up to speed. The gov is either lying or being lied too.

  • DisplacedCTYankee

    April 13, 2020 at 12:45 am

    I agree, John, DeSantis is “inextricably linked to Trump.” As for being lucky, so far yes, we all are, in the relatively small number of virus deaths in the state. But that could turn. I’m afraid Florida’s time will yet come.

    As for the unemployment compensation payments, the system simply was overloaded and broke. If I tried to drive my Mazda hatchback 150 mph it would break, too.

    I have not been out of my apartment in 19 days (except for walks) and am living on delivered pizza and vitamin pills. I’m 71. I don’t think people here are taking this seriously. Both delivery guys were not wearing masks or gloves and I had to motion them “back” and to put the pie down on the ground. I’m not sure they even knew why.

  • Linda Levy

    April 13, 2020 at 5:08 am

    Ron DeSantis is not fit to have the responsibility of Governor of this state or any state.He was slow to make the proper decisions throughout this pandemic and because of his indecisiveness in making the right decisions soon enough many people caught the Corona Virus and even died.Governor DeSantis has blood on his hands and he is unfit to be Governor or any political position.

  • Charlotte Greenbarg

    April 13, 2020 at 7:59 am

    The far left trolls are busy lying and slandering. Their pick for Governor was discovered lying unconscious, naked in his own vomit in the company of a gay escort with drugs in evidence. So that gives you the picture of what the trolls’ opinions are worth

    • Patrici

      April 13, 2020 at 4:13 pm

      Bravo

  • shane smith

    April 13, 2020 at 9:07 am

    Interesting view point… it really helps explain the level of blind belief or paid article in support of him.

    He has been a failure on so many levels. First his own delay (arguably blocking) of testing measures, lack of communication/guidance to our states government agencies, conflicting communication, decision reversal amongst other issues.

    I have to say things were marginally acceptable before this kicked in. Good for commerce and all that but since he has proven his leadership lacking in most aspects.

    Fact wise and twisting of perception made reading this article a waste of time.

  • Jim hanks

    April 13, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    I’m a snowbird from Michigan in Florida right now. No political axe to grind here. I would like to head north but am waiting for things to improve up there. Comparing the 2 states, Florida is lucky to have their governor. Michigan is in a mess, in total lockdown, and trails only NY and NJ. And, they don’t have spring breakers and tourism to blame their problems on. They only have their governor’s incompetence to blame. Florida’s leadership is a lot better. You could be a lot worse off. Just look around.

  • Nel

    April 13, 2020 at 12:34 pm

    “Not as bad as it could have been” doesn’t mean he didn’t fail us. What would the model look like if he had taken action earlier? This article completely washes over that.

    • Amanda Durham

      April 13, 2020 at 1:43 pm

      Amen! I called the governor’s office today left a message saying I Know he still has a job, but maybe he should try to file for unemployment and see that the money that has been spent on trying to better has failed!!!! Last day of work March 16th, still nothing!!!

  • GWPCONCRETEMAN

    April 13, 2020 at 12:36 pm

    FLORIDA is 14 days away from reaching the APEX of projected cases in our state. THIS ARTICLE is nothing more than a POLITICAL HIT JOB DURING A NATIONAL STATE OF EMERGENCY. FLORIDA is not half way through the projected impact (14 days away) on our state, however we have MEDIA outlets on all platforms along with POLITICIANS creating MASS CHAOS with MISINFORMATION that is not authorized under the INCIDENT COMMAND SYSTEM structure. The Governor is the FLORIDA INCIDENT COMMANDER during a STATE of EMERGENCY not the media and certainly not POLITICIANS attempting to elevate their profiles at the expense of COVID-19 victims. The current NATIONAL STATE of EMERGENCY in all 50 states has most definitely identified the weakness in our EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION system during a STATE of EMERGENCY. WAKE UP AMERICA and get with the program to STOP THE SPREAD and FLATTEN the CURVE. fema.gov/coronavirus.

    • Doc Lee

      April 13, 2020 at 1:00 pm

      14 days away from peak deaths. Not cases. Deaths lag cases by about 14 days as it takes on average 14 days from first symptoms to death.

      What’s going to be the determining factor in the end is what the backlog in private testing is.

  • Ray D Wood

    April 13, 2020 at 2:41 pm

    The question begins to be if you know multiple systems are not working correctly and you knowingly are making false claims then what is your motivation ? If you severely limit/limited testing what is your motivation, because if you are not appropriately testing and tracing then what do you expect to happen ? Are any of our lives worth a political ploy ?

  • FL Patriot

    April 13, 2020 at 3:26 pm

    Gov. DeSantis is doing a great job. If his poll numbers are down, it is due to the nat’l and state media carpet bombing him for not shutting down the state even though we are nothing like New York City. Our governor is not intimidated by the media.

    The scenes from spring break in FL at the beaches WERE addressed publicly by Gov. DeSantis in a press conference.

    The CDC said on that Friday…. gatherings of no more than 250, then the next day, Saturday, they went to 50 people, and on Sunday to 10 people; in a three day period. Give the governor a break. The pictures at the beach were old but the media saw the opportunity to pummel a conservative governor so they piled on.

    Now that the state of FL has shutdown, the economy has tanked and the unemployment crisis is far worse than the ”solution.” People die everyday in FL, opioid deaths, alcoholism, car wrecks, old age, the flu, pneumonia, underlying heath conditions.

    Sadly, people do die everyday. Florida has less than 500 deaths from COVID-19 in a state of 22 million people. What is the percentage? FL also has the oldest age population in the country.

    The so called expert “models” have been way, way off.

    We need to keep social distancing to a degree, but reopen the schools K12, open the beaches and state parks, churches, restaurants, malls etc. Keep major theme parks closed til mid May and limited openings in 3 hot spot counties in SFL.

    The rest of FL needs to reopen, stop the panic and restore some sanity and balance in addressing this.

    And stop the stock piling of toilet paper and Purell.

    China started this and they are laughing at the U.S. The anger of the American people should be directed at the right source: Communist China. The wet bat theory is a red herring.

    The COVID -19 virus was intentionally launched. We need to immediately bring the pharmaceutical manufacturing back to the U.S. and bring our manufacturers back as well.

  • Scott Moore

    April 13, 2020 at 8:20 pm

    The fault lies in that the US congress (Pelosi) voted down the idea that the US treasury should hand out the money. I got my money direct deposited.
    It would have been better if the clowns in DC voted the agency that was already set up to give out millions of payments the Treasury. Only a partisan hack would over look this fact. If the congress A) had done what was suggested made direct deposits to your bank B) you would already have your money NOW by WED.

  • Fredia Larson

    April 13, 2020 at 9:10 pm

    The numbers are lower because not everyone can get tested. I live in Highlands Co. and alot of people are being denied test because given the excuse if we havent flown anywhere we cant get tested. So for almost 3 weeks I’ve been sick along with my family we keep passing it back and forth. Yes I did go to my Dr. And was told I had the flu along with pneumonia but since I havent flown I couldnt be tested even though I’ve had all the symptoms. I even emailed the Governor about this and He still hasnt responded

  • jtrevino

    April 14, 2020 at 2:05 am

    DeSantis isn’t a leader. He’s a follower. Every action that helped slow the spread in Florida is credited to the pressure the general public and Florida mayors put on him to force his hand. If Trump is the hapless bench-warmer sitting on the sidelines as governors take charge of saving people, Florida is like the microcosm of the country with DeSantis sitting on the sidelines, while our mayors lead the response.

Comments are closed.


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